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October 16, 2009

Wildlife Groups Commend Interior Department for Seeking to Halt Polar Bear Trade

Trade in Polar Bear Skin Rugs and Other Parts Threatens the Species

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Defenders of Wildlife applaud the United States Department of the Interior for submitting a proposal to next year's meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stop the international trade in polar bears. The meeting is set for March 13-25 in Doha, Qatar.

"By submitting this proposal, the United States is, once again, leading the way to save this magnificent species from extinction. International trade in polar bear parts and products is exacerbating the devastating impact that climate change is already having on the polar bear. We should not be making rugs out of polar bears at a time when they are threatened with extinction," said Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., director of wildlife for Humane Society International, the global affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States.

There are presently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears and the number is decreasing.

"On May 8, 2009, Secretary Salazar said that he and President Obama were fully committed to protecting polar bears, and that we must do everything we can to eliminate all threats to the species. With this laudable action, they are making good on that commitment. By uplisting the species at the next CITES conference, the U.S. will help prevent the deaths of hundreds of polar bears killed needlessly for the commercial market," said Jeff Flocken, D.C. office director, International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Polar bears are completely dependent on sea ice, which they use for hunting prey, reproduction and movement. Ongoing atmospheric pollution is causing oceanic and atmospheric warming, leading to reductions in sea ice. Some scientists have concluded that polar bears will not survive past the end of this century due to the complete loss of summer sea ice.

In addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts — skin, fur, claws, skulls and even stuffed bears — enter international commercial trade. More than 500 polar bear skins are traded annually; most come from Canada and most go to Japan.

In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This ended the importation to the United States of trophies of polar bears killed by American sport hunters. Although hunters from other countries can still import trophies, the United States was by far the largest importer and American trophy hunters had driven this large-scale commercial killing.

"While we cannot stop the impacts of global warming on polar bears immediately, one thing we can do is quickly address other threats which are heightening the bear's problems, such as the commercial trade. By increasing protections for polar bears under CITES, we can start to give the polar bear some more protections while we take the necessary steps to address global warming," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president, Defenders of Wildlife.

The proposal would transfer the polar bear from CITES Appendix II, which allows regulated international commercial trade, to Appendix I, which prohibits all international commercial trade in the listed species. The purpose of CITES is to prevent over-exploitation of species through international trade.

The Appendix I designation would mean that countries agree to prohibit international trade for primarily commercial purposes and thus ensure that international trade will not contribute to the ongoing decrease in polar bear numbers. Appendix I listing will not affect native subsistence hunting or use of polar bears.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — On the web at hsi.org. 

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